How Many More Sunsets?

Posted by George Hamlin
on Sunday, March 1, 2020

No, I don’t have any better idea than you.  While I suspect that this former Norfolk & Western CPL (color position light) signal at Waynesboro, Virginia is on the proverbial “borrowed time” (and I’ve heard the rumors on the nearby outposts of the railfan grapevine (electronic version) that this year will be the last for the remaining CPLs on the former Shenandoah Line between Front Royal, Virginia, and Roanoke), I’m not aware of any official announcements of impending doom.  While death (and taxes) may be certainties in the world we inhabit, the timing of the former generally keeps its own company, making any prognostication, including mine, speculative, at best.

In at least one way, however, this particular one likely is special.  It’s the northward signal at the south end of the Waynesboro passing siding in its namesake city, and thus, was immediately north of what had been a two-level union station, with the N&W on the lower level, and the Chesapeake and Ohio above, crossing the N&W at approximately a ninety-degree angle.  Of course, after all these years, the station no longer survives, although passenger service still exists on the former C&O route (now the Buckingham Branch Railroad), in the form of Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal, but it no longer stops at Waynesboro.

So, what’s special about this CPL?  In 1955, a commercial photographer from New York City came to Waynesboro to photograph the then still steam-powered N&W passenger train number two during its Waynesboro stop.  Sometimes referred to as the “New York train”, it did indeed have a sleeping car that went all the way to the Big Apple, although the N&W’s responsibility for the journey ended in Hagerstown, Maryland, the north end of the Shenandoah line.  North of there, the Pennsylvania Railroad handled the rest of the journey to New York’s Penn Station, although coach passengers had to change trains in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Thus, it is very possible, assuming that there have been no significant changes in the signal’s location,  that famed photographer O. Winston Link probably gazed upon this CPL as he began his multi-year odyssey of photographing the N&W’s remaining operations of steam locomotives, including those on the Shenandoah line.  It was immediately north of the Waynesboro station, and would have been readily visible to those waiting on the platform, including Link when he was there.  Mason Cooper’s excellent book Norfolk & Western’s Shenandoah Valley Line, points out (page 169), that CTC (Centralized Traffic Control) began operating between Waynesboro and the division-point town of Shenandoah in 1953, making it extremely likely that there was a southward-facing signal at the south end of the Waynesboro siding at the time of Link’s initial visit.

Of course, prior to 1959, when the N&W converted the signals to CPLs (similar to those on the B&O), it would have been a Pennsy-style position light.  Rather than red, yellow and green lights, only the color yellow was used, with the signal’s aspect indicated by the position of the three lights (including one in the center that was removed and plated over during the switch to CPLs), typically vertical (clear); horizontal (stop); and oblique (approach); an additional partial signal head below the main one displayed an "approach" indication when needed to indicate entrance into the passing siding north of the signal.  Only the Pennsylvania and a few other railroads that were associated with the PRR (the Long Island being an example) used this style of signal; in the 1950s, however, the Pennsy owned one-third of the N&W’s stock, and thus, was able to influence at least some of the Virginia road’s operating practices.

The old adage “no rest for the weary” probably has a corollary along the lines of “no paint for the soon-to-be-retired”, evidence of which is seen in the photograph above, taken on February 22, 2020.  If you’re intrigued by this connection to the past, it might be a good idea to visit soon. 

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

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